When You Can’t Use Your Sights, Aim With Your Body

In one-handed retention fire, the elbow goes high and the thumb is indexed against the nipple. Shots will go low, potentially hitting an assailant’s pelvis.

The best way to hit what you’re aiming at with a handgun is to peer through the sights and smoothly press the trigger rearward until the shot breaks. The farther or smaller your target, the more critical these marksmanship fundamentals become. However, in some cases, sighted fire is not a viable option.

When facing a deadly threat at punching range, your handgun’s sights are of little consequence. You don’t have time to align your sights, and trying to extend your arms increases the chances the attacker could take away your gun.

At arm’s length, you need to keep your gun close to your body for optimal retention. Since retention shooting positions require the gun to be positioned well below your line of sight, you need an alternative aiming solution. When shooting from retention, physical index points and proper body alignment enable you to aim you gun without the benefit of using the sights.


There are two basic retention shooting positions, both of which are natural components of a proper draw stroke. The first occurs after the gun is drawn from the holster but before the second hand joins the grip.

This one-handed retention shooting position is sometimes referred to as “position three,” with the understanding that “position one” involves establishing a shooting grip and “position two” refers to the gun first clearing the holster.

Here’s how to achieve the one-handed retention shooting position. When drawing from the holster, lift your elbow rearward as high as you can without contorting your body. The high elbow accomplishes three things. When combined with a locked wrist, it orients your muzzle downward, enabling you to use your off-hand to protect your head or attack the assailant’s head without crossing in front of your muzzle. When your elbow is lifted as high as possible, it’s going to be in the same place every time for predictable shot placement. Finally, when your elbow is retracted as far as possible, it creates body tension that helps to mitigate the effects of recoil, thus minimizing the likelihood of a incurring a malfunction.

In addition to the fully raised elbow, indexing your “flagged” thumb to your nipple serves as a physical reference to ensure consistent positioning. With your thumb outstretched, a slight gap is created between your gun and your upper body. This significantly decreases the odds of your slide snagging on your shirt or jacket when firing.

With elbow high and thumb indexed—and with your knees, hips and shoulders square to the threat—your shots are likely to impact the left side of the assailant’s pelvis.

The pelvis is a viable target because a shot there could prevent the assailant from bearing weight, rendering him virtually immobile. Even if the effect is less dramatic, shooting the assailant’s pelvic region is likely to give you the chance to distance yourself from the threat, where you can more safely assess the situation.

You can also shoot from retention with two hands. This gives you twice the grip on your gun. The obvious drawback is it doesn’t leave you a free hand with which to fend or fight. The two-handed version immediately follows the one-handed version in the normal drawing sequence. It, too, is reliant on being square to the threat and on using physical reference points to ensure accuracy.

With a firm two-handed grip on the gun, anchor the interior portion of your forearms to your rib cage. (Be sure to extend the gun far enough that the slide does not hit your chest after firing. This won’t injure you, but it may cause a semiautomatic pistol to malfunction). This shooting position, when augmented with an aggressive, forward-leaning stance, makes it difficult for an assailant to disarm you, thanks to the advantage you’ll have with regard to leverage and grip.

Because this version orients the muzzle roughly parallel to the ground, it can be used at greater distances than the one-handed retention position. In fact, this position facilitates reliable hits at distances well outside double arm’s length—although, of course, when the assailant is that far away, raising your gun to eye level and using the sights is much preferred.

To illustrate how effectively the two-handed retention shooting position enables you to aim a handgun, I have students transition between targets situated between seven and 10 yards downrange.

They engage one target and then the other simply by locking into this position and pivoting at the waist to face their respective targets. This essentially transforms their bodies into turrets from which reasonably accurate shots can be fired.

Once you’re able to create distance, you can simply drive the gun toward the target and align the sights, and if you’re square to the target, you can shoot from this retention position as well as anywhere along the extension of your arms.

While using your sights is an important skill, it’s not going to be possible or even preferred in some situations. When an assailant is close enough to reach your gun, square up to him and index the gun to your body. If your body is aligned to the threat, your gun will be, too.

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